British Airways Owner Says Won’t Tell Britons How to Vote on EU

  • IAG AGM hears that company doesn’t take ‘a political view’
  • CEO Walsh says no evidence that Brexit would harm company

British Airways owner IAG SA said it won’t tell Britons how to vote in next week’s poll on whether to quit the European Union, setting it apart from dozens of prominent U.K. companies that stand opposed to a Brexit.

“IAG has taken a business decision -- not a political view -- on the referendum,” Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh told London-based IAG’s annual shareholder meeting. “We believe it’s a decision for the British electorate and we’re not going to advise people about how they should vote.”

Walsh, addressing investors in Madrid, where IAG’s Iberia arm is based, added that an analysis of the likely fallout from a victory for the “Leave” campaign suggests that IAG has nothing substantial to fear.

“As a responsible company we’ve undertaken a risk management assessment and, at this stage, we have concluded that should Britain leave the EU it will not have a long-term material impact on our business,” he said.

‘European Company’

IAG Chairman Antonio Vazquez said in response to a question from the floor that both airlines and consumers have benefited from free trade and a common aviation area, and that he personally favors Britain staying in the EU.

“We’ve got headquarters in Madrid, London and Dublin, we’re a European company,” he said.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. CEO Craig Kreeger said this month that he anticipates a slump in demand following a Britain exit as international businesses desert London for major cities still inside the 28-nation bloc.

Trans-Atlantic flights, which account for 70 percent of Virgin’s total capacity, could see bookings slide as U.S. companies favor locations such as Paris and Frankfurt, he said, adding that a longer-term dip might mean evaluating the case for exiting some markets and targeting entirely new ones.

A Brexit decision in the June 23 vote would also prompt a further weakening of the pound, increasing costs for U.K. airlines that pay in dollars for fuel accounting for 40 percent of total expenses, the Virgin chief said.

While based in Ireland, discount carrier Ryanair Holdings Plc has also been one of the most vocal backers of the “Remain” campaign. CEO Michael O’Leary has taken out newspaper advertisements opposing a Brexit and some of the carrier’s aircraft have been adorned with pro-EU messages.

Some other consumer-facing U.K. companies -- including the country’s biggest supermarket chains -- have refrained from taking a public view on the vote, mainly out of concern that they might alienate one constituency or the other.

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